Kevin Winge

Kevin Winge is a native of Minnesota. He lives in San Francisco, California where he is is the executive director of Project Open Hand, a nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals to people living with disease. Read more about Kevin Winge.

Posts about Society

Minneapolis: Gayest City in America

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: January 16, 2011 - 10:45 AM

If the number of gay-friendly faith organizations and number of openly gay elected officials in a community are any indication – and apparently they are – then Minneapolis is more than the City of Lakes. We’re the gayest city in the country.


The Advocate is the oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) interest magazine and, according to their website, the “world’s leading source for LGBT news.” Although the Advocate’s surveying methods wouldn’t pass muster in an introductory statistics class, their pronouncement of Minneapolis as the gayest city in the nation shouldn’t go ignored.


Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, might be surprised that her city, San Francisco, didn’t even make the top ten list of gayest American cities. While Rep. Pelosi might appreciate a little break from the limelight, Minneapolis leaders, from Mayor R.T. Rybak (an ally to the gay community) to members of the Minneapolis City Council (some of whom are gay and contributed to our city receiving the top ranking) should capitalize on the announcement and actively promote Minneapolis as the gayest city in the United States.


Let’s start by proclaiming this recognition on every population sign that greet drivers coming into our city. Below the sign welcoming people to our City of Lakes and informing them of the size of our population, could be another sign explaining we are the “Gayest City in America.” We’ve done things like this before. Many communities announce who is picking up trash along the side of the road, or their significance as the birthplace of historical figures. Why not send another message to residents and visitors alike – one that acknowledges the diversity, tolerance and inclusivity of Minnesota’s largest city.


Our Chamber of Commerce doesn’t need to reprint its brochures to share this news with the rest of the world, but how about a “Gayest City in America” sticker placed on every brochure the Chamber distributes in 2011? The Chamber’s website could use a little pizazz. How about displaying the announcement there? No doubt Quorum, the highly respected “trusted voice” for the LGBT and allied business community in the Twin Cities, will take full advantage of the Advocate’s announcement to promote economic development. The Minneapolis Chamber should, too.


Bestowing the title of Gayest City in America could not have come at a better time. In early February, more than 2,500 participants are expected in Minneapolis to attend the 23rd National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. This conference is just one example of how a welcoming community can also serve as an economic engine. What other organizations might select the gayest American city as the site of their conferences? How can a title like this be used to increase tourism? Minneapolis already has one of the largest Pride celebrations every June, why not add a winter pride party? We could create the largest outdoor ice bar every January and help fill up restaurants, hotels and theaters at a time when local businesses could use a boost.


Sure, the title of Minneapolis as the Gayest City in America is not much different than the selection of Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the state fair every year.  The excitement of the announcement will melt away as quickly as the butter sculpture of the princess. But, for the next year, why not have some fun with Minneapolis as the Gayest City in America. It sure beats the title of “Murderapolis” that we had a few years ago.

To a Thriving Twin Cities

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: January 8, 2011 - 10:23 AM

Too often in Minnesota, home-grown talent is ignored or pooh-poohed. Our appreciation for a Prince or a Garrison Keillor increases once their abilities have been acknowledged by other, presumably more sophisticated, locales. It’s as though choosing to live in Minnesota automatically delegates our artists, intellectuals and even politicians to the B-list. Explorer, researcher and New York Times best-selling author, Dan Buettner, is another example of a Minnesotan whose work should be lauded locally.

Minneapolitan Dan Buettner holds world records in endurance bicycling, travels the world investigating longevity and happiness, raises money for local charities and is the author of a new book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. In his book, Buettner identifies four “hot spots of happiness” including communities in Denmark, Singapore, Mexico and, in the United States, San Luis Obispo, California. Minneapolis is not one of the happiest cities and the United States only ranks 20th in the list of happiest countries in the world. We may never compete with San Louis Obispo, but there are lessons to be learned from Thrive that could transform the Twin Cities into a happier place to live.
“More than any other factor, including income, education level, and religion,” Buettner writes, “the place where you live determines your level of happiness.” Given that, we can either choose to look for happiness in one of the happiest countries in the world, such as Costa Rica, Denmark or Iceland, or we can consciously make decisions that will increase our happiness right here at home, and Buettner has suggestions for ways to do that.
Topping the list for creating happy communities is economic freedom as exemplified by the freedom for people to start and run new businesses. Low unemployment makes for happier communities, as does tolerance. Nations accepting of other cultures, religions and sexual orientations are happier than those that allow discrimination. A transparent, trustworthy and democratic government is also a critical component of happiness in communities.
What would we need to do to make Minnesota a happier place to live? In part, Buettner suggests:
  • Providing more community spaces such as parks and gardens and pedestrian malls where residents can socialize.
  • Limiting the hours of shopping so time for family, friends and hobbies replaces the “fleeting, extrinsic satisfaction” that comes with buying things.
  • Limiting the hours worked weekly to allow more time for socializing, education, volunteerism, the arts and sports.
  • Funding the arts.
  • Encouraging healthier lifestyles by building sidewalks and bike lanes.
I have two additional suggestions for making Minnesota a happier place. First, I would provide every elected official in the state with a copy of Thrive so they understand how decisions they make this year will affect the future of Minnesota. And second, I would acknowledge and celebrate the talent that exists in our own backyard with Dan Buettner and his work being just one more example of what makes this such a vibrant community.

Walker Art Center More Courageous than Smithsonian

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: December 19, 2010 - 11:11 AM

Struggling artists who include Christian iconography in their work might want to show their portfolios to William Donohue.
Donohue is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the United States. He has defended Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism, blamed the victims of the Catholic Church’s pedophilia crisis and criticized President George W. Bush for sending out “holiday” cards instead of Christmas cards. Recently, he was effective in getting a Smithsonian Institution museum, the National Portrait Gallery, to pull a short film from an acclaimed exhibit of same-sex portraiture called “Hide/Seek.” If Donohue can propel a little known and long dead artist from obscurity to headlines, just imagine what he could do for the careers of emerging artists whose works Donohue would wish to censor or ban?
The most recent controversy in the seemingly endless culture wars is over a few seconds in a short film by artist and activist, David Wojnarowicz. The four-minute film, “Fire in My Belly,” is a sometimes brutal expression of anger and rage over the AIDS epidemic that claimed the life of Wojnarowicz’s lover, and would also kill the artist in 1992. “Fire in My Belly” was filmed between 1986 and 1987; a time when our government was silent and far too many others, including some faith communities, were critical of people with AIDS. Then, as now, it was artists who made us see things we might rather avoid.
What William Donohue doesn’t want you to see in Wojnarowicz’s film is a brief scene of ants crawling over a crucifix. Donohue called the film anti-Christian and the Smithsonian pulled it from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition “because the attention it was receiving distracted from the overall exhibit...” Fortunately, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and its director, Olga Viso, are not intimidated by religious extremists or politicians who threaten to pull public funding of the arts every time a work of art upsets their personal aesthetic. Three versions of Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly,” including the version no longer being shown at the National Portrait Gallery, are being screened for free at the Walker through December 31.
There were four of us in the audience at the screening of “Fire in My Belly” that I attended. I watched the scene of ants scurrying over a crucifix and did not see it as anti-Christian. Rather, I saw the scene as a visual depiction of a timeless question that most of us have heard – especially from people in pain and grief: If God is loving, how can he close his eyes to such suffering?
In a way, William Donohue has done me a favor. I was not familiar with the work of David Wojnarowicz prior to this controversy and “Fire in My Belly” has given me a new way of looking at HIV/AIDS. I’m curious to see which artist will be in Donohue’s crosshairs next. Whether dead or alive, being criticized by someone like William Donohue can only enhance one’s career.

Archbishop Nienstedt’s DVD is Not Yesterday’s News

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: December 12, 2010 - 6:38 PM

It’s difficult, in a 24-hour new cycle, to think back even a few months and remember the lead stories that everyone was once talking about. What were the stories before autumn turned to winter and snowstorms eclipsed all other news. Before Minnesota’s latest election recount, and Obama’s “shellacking” and Bristol Palin’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
For a few days last fall, shortly before the mid-term election, the local story that captured headlines was an “urgent message” from Archbishop John Nienstedt calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would make same-sex marriage illegal in Minnesota. The six-minute message from the Archbishop, titled “Preserving Marriage in Minnesota,” called gay marriage a “dangerous risk” and was mailed to the homes of over 400,000 Catholics in the state. And then, as happens with all news, the story was forgotten.
Between then and now a few thousand DVDs were returned to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. A few others became part of an art project and some are now covered with dirt and trash in landfills. But many more, probably the majority of DVDs, are still being viewed, shared and no doubt are quietly helping to set the stage for a divisive argument about same-sex marriage in 2011.
Going into the November election, when both the state house and the senate were controlled by Democrats and there was hope for a Democrat winning the governor’s office, proponents of gay marriage were excited about the prospects of passing a same-sex marriage bill in Minnesota. Now, with both houses going to the Republicans, the most supporters can do is work to prevent an amendment to the constitution. This is why the Archbishop’s DVD is not yesterday’s news.
In the DVD, Archbishop Nienstedt says: “I hope we can all agree on this: If we are to change our societal understanding of marriage, it should be the people themselves, and not politicians or judges, who should make the decision.” Well, we can’t all agree on this for a number of reasons.
First, the Archbishop conflates unrelated issues in his DVD from high rates of divorce and fatherless-ness to fragmentation of families – missing the point entirely that same-sex marriage is intended to strengthen gay families. The Archbishop also forgets that politicians and judges are representatives of the people. His reference to the legislative and judicial branches of our government as the “ruling elite” poses much more of a risk to society than does two people of the same sex marrying. With this DVD, the Archbishop blurs the critically important divide between church and state.
Even though Archbishop Nienstedt’s DVD is no longer on the front page, it remains a powerful tool that misrepresents the issue and is intended to scare viewers into taking action that will harm Minnesota. There needs to be a counter force that will get a different message of equality, fairness, tolerance and love into every house in the state. Too bad proponents of same-sex marriage don’t have an anonymous donor to underwrite that side of the story.

Day Seven: Living on Food Stamps

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: November 24, 2010 - 7:17 PM

As I wait for my brown rice to boil to prepare my final dinner of my SNAP Challenge, black beans and rice, I have a few minutes to reflect on my seven days of living on $27.65 – the average amount a low-income, single person would receive in food stamps for one week.
It’s been a week of learnings – learnings about food, about other people and about myself – some of which I have blogged about throughout the week. I lost three pounds. By the fourth day of the challenge I found I didn’t have the amount of energy that I usually do. I definately was sleeping more. I spent much more time thinking about food, grocery shopping, planning and preparing meals than I ever do when I’m not living on such a tight food budget.
And now that the challenge is nearly over, I find myself wanting to do something to recognize the week. Obviously, going out for a nice meal is out of the question as is a champaigne toast. I’m still living on $3.95 a day, after all, and this isn’t an occassion that calls for a celebration. Rather, it requires a call to action for me and others who might want to do something to address hunger in Minnesota.
The first thing I did was make a donation in the amount of $27.65 to my favorite nonprofit that works to address nutrition and hunger in the Twin Cities. I specifically donated that dollar amount in recognition of one of the 440,000 Minnesotans who received food stamps in October.
The second thing I did was visit the website for Hunger-Free Minnesota, a collaborative campaign to end hunger in the state. Hunger-Free Minnesota hopes to get 25,000 people to sign a pledge that reads: “I believe that food is a basic and essential human right. I believe Minnesota produces enough food to nourish and sustain all who live here. And I support Hunger-Free Minnesota in its campaign to end hunger.” It took me one minute to sign the pledge.
What I’m doing now is asking others to join me in making a donation in the amount of $27.65 to a local food shelf, hunger relief or meals-on-wheels organization. And I’m asking others to visit to sign the pledge to end hunger in Minnesota.
The last thing I am going to do is enjoy every morsel of my Thanksgiving meal on Thursday and wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.

Day Six: Living on Food Stamps

Posted by: Kevin Winge Updated: November 23, 2010 - 9:46 PM

I didn’t need to take the SNAP Challenge to realize that my gender and race afford me a certain amount of privilege. I’ve been aware of the benefits and opportunities that come with being male and white for a very long time. I was also aware of the added privilege that comes from having an education and a well-paying job. All of this allows me to take one week out of my life and feed myself for $27.65. And then, at the end of the week, to go back to shopping at expensive grocery stores and eating at fine restaurants
I embarked on this week-long challenge in hopes of drawing attention to the issues of hunger and food insecurity in Minnesota. It worked. I haven’t engaged in a single conversation in over a week that didn’t include a discussion about this challenge. I’ve had colleagues call me, old friends Face Book me and strangers send me e-mails. I’ve been interviewed on local radio and television stations. Today, I was speaking at an area college and met a young man who is a recipient of food stamps. He thanked me for doing the SNAP Challenge.
This young man, Freddie, is one of the 440,000 Minnesotans who received food stamps in October. He knows what it is like to live on food stamps for months – not just for one week as part of a consciousness-raising experiment. When I asked Freddie why he would thank me for doing what he lives, he said it was because he needs to live on food stamps but I chose to do this for one week.
Freddie is a real spokesperson for food insecurity in Minnesota, but no one has been talking to him about his experiences on food stamps this past week. I doubt people have been offering Freddie food or sending him encouraging messages. I’m happy to use whatever privilege I have to bring attention to this issue, but the people we really need to be listening to are those like Freddie, and the hundreds of thousands of other Minnesotans on SNAP who, unlike me, won’t wake up on Thanksgiving morning and never again have to think about living on only $3.95 a day.


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